Monday, March 5, 2007

Do Your Work!

I guess I'll try to stir up a discussion, and I'm sorry if this is too teacher-y, but I think some of us might be able to relate. I'm struggling with a certain population of the 8th graders I teach, and thought it might make for some healthy discussion. I have about 15 kids who are really smart. They have got all of the academic skills you need to really excel at school, but they are all failing, and failing miserably.

The reason for this is that they are not doing assigned work. There is no doubt that they are capable of this sort of work because when I stand over them menacingly and refuse to move until they put pen to paper, they can knock out the work with breath-taking speed and accuracy. There is, however, a prevailing notion among this group that says that their capability should be sufficient. In other words, the fact that they could do the work if they wanted should outweigh the fact that they refuse to do the work.

I guess the question under discussion, therefore, is where does this attitude come from? If you are so capable, why hesitate to do what should be so easy for you?


everydaymathchick said...

It's not about capability; it's all about motivation. I personally can do really high math with ease, but I teach algebra I (a part of math that's really easy for someone with a math degree). I have no motivation to teach higher math right now...capable, totally...motivated to do so, nope.

There are other examples too, but basically with students I think it boils down to them not wanting to do the work and not wanting to learn about geography or biology or math or whatever it is they won't do the work for. Untapped potential is one of the most frustrating things about teaching.

Kent said...

I agree with Joanna that it comes down to motivation. The question is, why is the motivation lacking if the ability is definitely there?

I was good friends in high school with a guy who was brilliant. He was much smarter than me. But my grades were miles ahead of his. He could care less about grades. I always wondered why.

Does it come from the home? My parents really encouraged and pushed my sister and I to do our absolute best. But, then, I know some people who are smart and whose parents push them but they aren't motivated.

Is it just different wiring in the brain? For me, I was smart and I knew that making good grades was a part of playing the game, if that makes sense. When I think about my friend from high school, he was a bit of a rebel. He knew that he was smart and he didn't need a grade on a piece of paper to tell him that. He refused to play the game. I knew I was smart but I wanted that grade and I wanted otherp people to know it as well.

Good question. I would like to hear from some of our other teachers like LaRae, Beri, Jennifer, and Jill, all brilliant women who I know have an opinion on this.

Wade said...

Hey Guys,

Love the new blog idea - hope you don't mind if I 'read over your shoulders.'

Although the words 'brilliant', 'teacher' or 'woman' have never been used to describe me, I'd like to chime in if I may.

Let me take a clinical approach. I'm not one to jump to any medical diagnosis too quickly, but the thought of adolescent chemical imbalances come to mind here.

I'm certainly not calling these kids ADD, but listen to what Edward Hallowell, MD wrote in 'Driven to Distraction':

"Although it can't be proven that he had it, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart would be a good example of a person with ADD: impatient, impulsive, distractible, energetic, emotionally needy, creative, innovative, irreverent and a maverick."

Sound like any teenagers you know?

Again, I'm not saying that all kids have ADD. But we all recognize the natural chemical and hormonal imbalances every teenager endures. And I think this is why a lot of gifted teenagers naturally underachieve.

It's not an excuse. But if both the student and teacher are self-aware of this fact, then it's much easier to create an environment that is both stimulating and motivating.

january embers said...

Motivation - the enigma of public schools!

I think everyone who has commented so far has made excellent points. I think the motivation puzzle is wrapped up in all that - intrinsic desire (or lack thereof) within the student, the distraction factor of chemical imbalances (whether brought on by ADD, ADHD or plain old teenage hormone changes), and nurture (parental influence... sometimes of the, "They'll kill me if I don't" variety).

Too often, however, we in education are quick to put the blame at the feet of the student. And I'm with Wade - they ARE to blame - the following comments are not offered as an out for the students. In the end, students are the only people who can make decisions about their education.

But educators are the ones who make decisions about what happens in their classrooms. What topics to teach, in what order, using which techniques, asking students to do what assignment or create which product, how to behave towards our students, what expectations we have of our students' performance and behavior. We're not going to light the classroom on fire with every lesson. We're not going to reach every single student at the core of their being every single day. But I can't tell you how many teachers I see every month who practice insanity on a regular basis: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

When we as educators ask about student motivation, we need to ask ourselves first what steps we are taking to make our content accessible, mildly interesting, and relevant. If we have done everything we possibly can on our end of things, then we can look at the students' end of things. But let's look in the mirror first.